Mainly because they show that the more things change the more they stay the same.
I asked our statisticians Champion Data to give me some key stats for this year and compared them with season 2012. They show that overwhelmingly the stats don’t change a lot year to year. In 2011 both teams took on average 121.1 shots per match, missing 21.7 of then for a scoring rate of 82%. This year teams are taking 120.9 shots a game, missing 21.8 at a scoring rate of 81.9%. There are on average 12.1 intercepts per game this year compared to 12.9 last year and turnovers have changed only .3 per game from last year to this year.
So why do I mention this? Well because when you look at the penalties things begin to change. The reason I looked at the stats in the first place was because I had a hunch that I was hearing more whistle this year than last. The stats back me up. In 2011 there were, on average 118.8 penalties per match. This year there are 127.4. This is significant enough to dig a bit deeper. The breakdown of the penalties shows that obstruction calls haven’t changed significantly – 29.1 last year to 30.4 this year. What has changed is the application of the contact rule – on average players were called for contact 89.7 times per match last year compared to 97 times this year.
So what does this mean? I don’t think it means that the players have in the course of one season forgotten how the contact rule works or have lost the skill of avoiding the collision.
It may mean that bigger, stronger, fitter players are contesting more ball and doing it harder and faster than ever before. Or it could simply be that the umpires are cracking down in this area and are doing so in order to maintain “control” over the game.
I think the reality is somewhere in the middle. Players are playing closer to the line than ever before, and stretching the contact rule as hard as they can. Umpires see the collisions as a loss of control and blow their whistles to make the players pull up a bit.
The question is what to do about it. You may ask why do anything about it – the players have to adjust to the umpires interpretation. To a point that is true. The problem is that more whistle does not make our great game more appealing as a spectator sport. The biggest complaint I get from people who are new to the game on TV or as spectators is that there is too much whistle. I agree.
For our game to grow and prosper we need to ensure that newcomers are not bewildered by the whistle being blown, on average every 30 seconds. No other successful spectator sport has that level of involvement from match officials. To be palatable to newbies, the game has to flow.
This is not to engage in umpire bashing. I think they do a good job enforcing the current interpretations of the rules in an incredibly fast paced game. But the game has changed. Our athletes are bigger and stronger than ever. They can take a physical knock and return serve and barely notice. I would love to our game acknowledge that. If the players have changed, why cant the interpretation of the contact rule change too?
During commentary when I call for play to be let go I mean just that – I don’t want the umpire blowing the whistle on a fair contest for the ball just because the players have bumped into each other. By all means call dirty play – grabbing arms, tripping, using knees and elbows to stop a player moving as well as the denial of landing space.
What I want is for the incidental body knocks to be let go. Let the contest for possession happen between some of the worlds most magnificent athletes happen without a whistle in earshot.
- Liz Ellis